Sunset in the promised land


"JERUSALEM, CITY OF GOLD"

This is an extract from one of my stories. It was written in 1996, while in Israel, volunteering on a kibbutz.

"It's a hot Saturday afternoon in Jerusalem, and after a frustrating morning in Bethlehem, it's good to be back on our little balcony.

But let me start at the beginning.

After work on Thursday, my girlfriend Makiko and I caught the bus to Jerusalem. We had a room booked in a hostel just inside the walls of the Old City- one of the few rooms that has its own bathroom, and a balcony. There's no light in the bathroom, the toilet only sometimes flushes and the shower is always cold, but we like it so we've booked it for the next two nights as well.

The Western Wall, or as non-jews call it, the Wailing Wall

Thursday, we walked around the Old City and to the top of the Mount Of Olives to see the sun set over the holiest city on Earth. Yesterday, we again walked all around the Old City, finding new and interesting streets and markets every time we got lost!

Being from a country like Australia, I was fascinated by the tri-lingual signs

Looking down on the markets from atop the wall

Our stomachs churned at the Butchers Markets, which I won't even describe. I made a 'friend' in the clothes market- I made the mistake of stopping to look at a pair of trousers, and every time I've walked past since, he's accosted me- "Hey friend, you want to see them again? Only thirty shekels!" We saw Muslim mosques, Jewish synagogues and Christian churches all within a few blocks od each other. I can see why there's so much religious tension in this city (and country!)

Looking down on the square from our hotel room balcony

We visited the famous Wailing Wall, and we walked the Via Dolorosa- the road that Jesus walked with his cross. But the highlight of my day was walking through Hezekia's Tunnel.

Without the flash of the camera, it was pitch black in the tunnel

Built around 700 B.C, its purpose was to bring water from an outside spring, into the city to prevent invaders from locating the city's water supply and cutting it off. The tunnel is 533 metres long, through rock, and about 50cm wide, and you walk in knee deep water- what a blast! This morning, we walked to Bethlehem- only about a two hour walk, and we were intending to stay the night. But the first four places we tried had closed down, so with 'no room at the inn', we've returned to our room in Jerusalem. Bethlehem was kind of dirty and not much to see besides the Church Of The Nativity, supposedly built on the spot where Jesus was born. We also caught a taxi about 10km out of town to see Herodian, King Herod's 20B.C mountain top palace-well worth the trip and amazing scenery.

Now Monday afternoon and we're back at the kibbutz. Sunday, we caught a sheirut (shared taxi) about halfway to Jericho.

This was the starting point of our five hour hike

From that point, we left the road and hiked for about five hours through the most desolate scenery I've seen since Death Valley. Part of the way, we were following an ancient-but still operational- aqueduct built to carry water from the spring Ein Qelt to the old city of Jericho. We had to change our plans a little due to a wild dog or two. We were surprised to come across a camp of Bedouins in the middle of this nowhere land, which would obviously be uninhabitable without the water from the aqueduct. After about four hours we arrived at a spectacular 5th century monastery built into the cliffside.

St Catherine's monastery, built into the cliffside in the middle of nowhere

Exhausted by the time we reached Jericho, we took a sheirut back to Jerusalem. This morning, we finally got to see the Dome Of The Rock, the golden domed mosque that dominates the Jerusalem skyline in all the postcards.

Wearing a skirt is a small price to pay for the privilege of visiting such a holy site

We had to put on robes to cover our exposed skin (yes, I wore a skirt!), but what a beautiful building. An interesting point about the religious 'situation'- the Dome Of The Rock (a Muslim mosque) is built on what was once the site of the first and second Jewish temples, and many Jews still believe that the third Jewish temple will one day be built there again. Think about it ! Then we went for a walk on top of the Old City walls- a very different way to see things.

Walking on the wall of the Old City

Well, I feel like we were away for two weeks, but it was only four days. It's good to be back though, to the worry free life of the kibbutz.

My room on the kibbutz

Visit my favourite books page for some recommended reading relating to my time in Israel. Roll your mouse over the cover photo for a brief description. Click for more details, to purchase online at a discounted price from Amazon, or to view other titles. (if you buy a book, or any other product from Amazon, through this link on my site, I get a small commission- even more if you buy the book you clicked on. Go on, buy a book today!)

tips

When staff at the backpackers hostel in Jerusalem tell you that there's no accommodation in Bethlehem, believe them.

Booking a room in advance seems to make so much sense, and can save a hell of a lot of time, footslogging, and frustration. I often wonder why I still almost never do it.

As always, try to get away from the main tourist sights. Explore some of the areas not detailed on your tourist map.

'must see' places :

the dome, the wall, the markets, and all the sights of the old city

Hezekia's tunnel

Herodian; climb it- after seeing an aerial photo, I wish we had.

Wadi Qelt and the Monastery of St. George

Apparently, Oscar Schindler's grave can be found in the cemetery on the way to the mount of olives. Good luck finding it; that's the biggest Jewish cemetery in the world.

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